Inshallah A Boy
One of the reasons why I love to explore films from across the globe is because I get a fair assessment of the culture and the people along with the underlying issues prevalent in certain areas. The case in point are films from Iran that are often used as tools by filmmakers for making a statement against the establishment. This ‘punch up’ technique is effective and important to raise awareness while also providing an opportunity to introspect and learn as a society. And one such film that I watched was Inshallah A Boy, a story set in Jordan and Jordan’s Official Submission to the Academy Awards this year. While the title of the film did give me a fair idea about the film addressing the issue of patriarchy and its double standards, I still wished to witness the drama on how deep rooted the issue is, and how deep the makers wished to go with the subject. So then does Inshallah A Boy manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Inshallah A Boy follows the story of a widow who pretends to be pregnant with a son in order to save her daughter and her home from the patriarchal inheritance laws of the country. For starters, I was completely oblivious of this law in Jordan and so, the film does extremely well to weave a story while highlighting the double standards of this law to the hilt. The story here is relevant and almost unfolds like an Asghar Farhadi thriller in the social setup but equally gripping and absorbing. The screenplay standing at a shade under 2 hours is compelling to the point that you are thoroughly invested in the journey of the protagonist who has to face different obstacles thrown at her after her husband’s death. But what the writing also does is expose the double standards of the law that is apparently heavily tilted towards the prevalent patriarchy.
The drama begins with a gloomy setup of the streets of Jordan wherein the protagonist is shown to be trying to pickup an undergarment discreetly from her balcony but rather unsuccessfully. On suddenly spotting a man picking the undergarment which had dropped from her balcony, she completely let its go while tactfully hiding behind her curtains. This opening sequence was enough to set things to context while addressing the presence of patriarchy in the narrative that would only get worse with time. It is also shown that she has been trying to conceive her second baby with her husband who suddenly passes away in his sleep one day. But if being a single mother from that point was not hard enough, she has an additional burden of paying off her husband’s debt or forgoing her home and her daughter. The writers do well in building a subtly compelling world around the protagonist who in the eyes of the men around her is merely an object of desire and accomplishment. All the men around her including her brother are either dismissive of her or completely wish to dominate her in a series of events that lead up to the issue of the inheritance law heavily tilted in favour of men.
The proceedings are hard-hitting while also allowing the viewers to form their opinions. For instance, the narrative doesn’t necessarily white wash the image of the protagonist but does enough to highlight the issues that she has been facing. There are new challenges awaiting her everyday and her pretence of her being pregnant was one of her ways to wriggle out of a difficult situation. In between, the hierarchy between the rich and the poor is also well established by the writers wherein the protagonist is shown to work for long hours in a rich household for a meagre sum of money. Yet in the daughter of an owner Lauren, she finds a compatriot who is dealing with marital issues of her own. The only difference being that Lauren is facing unwanted pregnancy while the protagonist wishes to be so, only to save her daughter and her home.
The drama does well in highlighting the psyche of the protagonist who is willing to go any distance to serve her purpose, be it exploring dating sites or trying to get involved with her colleague at work. This, while the picture at the other end isn’t very rosy with men either oogling at her on the dating apps or pulling her down in real life. The stakes in the drama are raised when each door starts to shut for the protagonist. Yet, the chance ending is a beautiful epitome of hope. I would wish to explain its ending so spoiler alert!
In the end, you get to know that the protagonist is indeed pregnant once her reports arrive. At this point, we aren’t sure about the gender of her child but it is of her husband with whom she was trying to conceive. And this ray of hope reflects in her trying to maneuvre her car from the parking as her daughter looks on with a smile. Previously, she had almost dismissed her daughter who had pleaded with her to visit a local restaurant on the pretext that she cannot drive for too long. The end was a ray of hope for even her daughter who would eventually grow up in a man’s world while being aware that her mother was a strong woman who dealt with so many new obstacles everyday with a smile. The screenplay is extremely well written and makes for an absorbing watch.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational while doing well to highlight the prevalent patriarchy in the society pretty well. The BGM is sparingly used that almost creates a haunting atmosphere for the protagonist to thrive in. The notes never try to manipulate your emotions, also aiding it gently to subtly blend with the drama unfolding. The cinematography paints a grim picture of reality with a colour grading and production design that is almost devoid of any hope for the protagonist. The frames are wonderfully positioned that radiate the inner turmoil of the protagonist wonderfully well. The editing is crisp and sharp for most parts of the runtime. Director Amjad Al Rasheed does a phenomenal job in constructing a drama that is subtle and impactful. And you see shades of Asghar Farhadi in the drama particularly in the manner in which the drama unfolds and the characters written. The direction is top notch here and subtly conveys the messaging at the end while also highlighting the double standards of the society.
The performances are wonderful by the ensemble cast. Yumna Marwan as Lauren is fiery in a character with a strong mind of her own and she creates a stirling impact. Mohammed Al Jizawi as Ahmad is impressive while subtly emitting shades of patriarchy himself. Eslam Al-Awadi as Hassan represents qualities of earnestness and sincerity in his performance. Haitham Omari as Rifqi will make your blood boil by his antics and arguments, and if that happens then you know that the actor has done a fine job. Mouna Hawa as Nawal is excellent to the core. I was so invested in her character that I could empathize with her pain that she expresses so beautifully through her eyes. Her body language is restraint while beautifully internalizing her performance. She was brilliant in a towering acting masterclass.
Jordan’s Official Entry to the Academy Awards this year, Inshallah A Boy is a gripping social thriller that exposes the double standards of patriarchy that is prevalent in our society, thereby making it an absorbing watch. Highly Recommended from my end.